Keys to the Game: Packers vs. Browns
Gerrard Diaz, firstname.lastname@example.org
Green Bay Packers
Next man up
The Green Bay Packers have seen this script before. The injuries are piling up. The game-day roster is starting to fill with rookies and free agents. The Packers don’t skip a beat. At least that is what happened in 2010 when the team overcame injuries to win the Super Bowl. The injury bug has hit again, and again the Packers will need the next man up philosophy. At some point the Packers will start to get healthy again, but until then the cast of practice squaddies and third-stringers will have to get the Packers through a few games.
Cleveland Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden was ridiculed in Cleveland this week for throwing two interceptions Sunday against the Detroit Lions. Weeden has five INTs since taking over for Brian Hoyer in Week 3. The Packers’ defenders need to be ball hawks Sunday. Weeden will give them opportunities to get their hands on the ball. The Packers have to take advantage of those opportunities. With both defenses likely to keep the scoring low, a turnover in the wrong part of the field could end up being decisive.
Lead with defense
The Browns surprised with three straight wins after starting 0-2. That run included a 17-6 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals. The Cleveland defense was key to getting those wins. Last week the team gave up a season-high 31 points to Detroit. The Packers usually have one of the highest-scoring offenses in the league, but injuries and a new-found commitment to the running game means Sunday’s game could turn into a defensive battle. The Browns’ defense has to keep the Packers close for the team to have a shot to steal a game at Lambeau Field.
The Browns have a pair of emerging players in wide receiver Josh Gordon and tight end Jordan Cameron. Gordon has 429 yards receiving and two touchdowns, while Cameron has reeled off 460 yards and found the end zone five times. The Browns will likely need the passing game to be clicking to have a chance Sunday. With Willis McGahee likely to find running difficult against the Packers’ fifth-ranked rushing defense, Gordon and Cameron could find open space in a Packers secondary that has given up a lot of yards this season.
Jordy Nelson vs. Joe Haden
As the Packers’ only completely healthy starting wide receiver, Jordy Nelson should be active Sunday. That means he’ll likely be seeing a lot of the Browns’ shutdown corner, Joe Haden. If the game turns into a slugfest with both teams trying to run the ball and trading field goals, Haden’s ability to not give up the big play could be a huge factor. Of course, if Nelson makes some of the circus catches on long bombs — as he’s done often this season — it may put the Packers up for good.
With the receiving corps missing Randall Cobb and possibly James Jones, the Packers will be relying on tight end Jermichael Finley to step up. Finley will be a prime target for Rodgers as the Packers try to weather the injuries sustained a week ago against the Baltimore Ravens. Finley has caught the ball well this season and shown more strength breaking tackles and getting yards after the catch. The injury situation should mean a lot more opportunities. Finley needs to take advantage of them.
Mason Crosby’s troubles seem a distant memory. The kicker is 13 of 14 on field goals this season and a perfect 14 of 14 on extra points. Not only that, Crosby has come up huge the last two games, while the Packers offense has struggled to find the end zone. Crosby had four field goals last week and tied a franchise record two weeks ago with five field goals. He has also hit from 50 and 52 yards out. Crosby is once again reliable, which will be huge in any close games the Packers have the rest of the season.